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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   ^59
Forgetting about his mother, Alexei stood admiring the
girl and it seemed to him that he had never forgotten
her during these years and had been dreaming of this
tSo that's what you are like now!" he said at last.
"Like what?" she inquired in a ringing, throaty voice
that was also quite unlike the one he had heard when
they were at school together.
A gust of wind blew round the corner and whistled
through the bare branches of the poplar-tree. The girl's
frock fluttered against her well-shaped legs. With a
ripple of laughter she stooped and held her frock down
with a simple, graceful movement.
"Like that!" answered Alexei, no longer concealing
his admiration.
"Well, like what?" the girl asked again, laughing.
The mother looked at the two young people for a
moment, smiled sadly and went on her way. But they kept
standing there admiring each other, chatting vivaciously,
interrupting each other and interspersing their conversa-
tion with exclamations, such as "D'you remember?...'4
"D'you know?..." "Where is?..." "What's happened
They stood chatting like that for a long time until
Olya pointed to the windows of the near-by houses at
which, over geranium pots and sprigs of fir, inquisitive
faces could be seen.
"If you have time let's go to the riverside," suggested
Olya. Holding hands, a thing they had not done even as
children, and forgetting everything, they went to a tall
hill that ran steeply down to the river and from which
a magnificent view could be had of the broad expanse of
the Volga and of the solemn procession of ice floes on
its flood waters.
From that time onwards the mother rarely saw her
beloved son at home. Not usually fastidious about clothes,
he now ironed his trousers every day, polished the but-
tons of his uniform with chalk, put on his white-topped
peak cap with the Air Force badge, shaved his bristly
chin every day, and in the evening, after twisting and
turning in front of a mirror for a time, went to meet
Olya at the gates of the sawmill. In the day-time too he